If you ever receive an email purporting to be from the TV Licensing, exercise caution - whether it's an email telling you to reclaim money you've supposedly overpaid on your TV Licence, or asking you to renew.
Action Fraud, the police’s national crime reporting service, says there has been a sharp rise in the number of “phishing” attacks that appear to involve the TV Licensing service.
They had received more than 5,000 reports from October to December 2018 about fake emails and texts pretending to be from TV Licensing. And since April 2018, Action Fraud has received more than 900 crime reports, with the victims' losses adding up to more than £830,000.
How these attacks work
Phishing emails are sent by fraudsters to thousands of addresses with the intention of persuading at least some recipients to divulge personal information such as bank details.
They are designed to appear as if they come from bona fide companies; typically banks or government departments such as HM Revenue & Customs - or in this case, the TV Licensing service.
The message might say there is a problem with a bank account or that the recipient is due a tax refund. Or it might ask you to complete your renewal. There will then be a link to a website for the victim to sign into their account and provide financial information.
Seven ways criminals get personal information
However, the website – despite appearing authentic – is a front for the criminals, who use it to steal personal information.
This can then be used to empty bank accounts, or to fraudulently apply for credit in the victim’s name.
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How the TV Licensing scam operates
One of the TV Licensing frauds sees potential victims get an email that appears to come from “TV License” – although the official organisation is known as TV Licensing and the correct spelling for the document itself is “TV Licence”. (Poor spelling and grammar is very common in phishing attacks, so always be on the lookout for any errors.)
The message says that the recipient is entitled to a refund on a portion of their last licence payment, and adds that due to “invalid account details records” [sic] this is unable to be processed automatically. As a result, individuals have to click through a link to a “refund form” and fill in their bank account and credit card details.
Anyone who does this is effectively giving the fraudsters all the information they need to make a transaction with the victim’s card, as well as making it much easier for them to steal from the victim’s bank account.
It is possible that this particular scam could affect older people to a greater degree due to the fact that the over-75s no longer have to buy TV Licences: anyone who has recently passed their 75th birthday and receives one of these emails could be more likely to believe it is genuine.
Do you qualify for a free TV licence?
The fact that TV licences are currently free to the over-75s helped give one of our readers a heads up when she received a scam email in early 2019:
'I thought you might want to warn your readers. I'm over 75 and don't have to pay for a TV licence. However, I have received two emails telling me my licence was due for renewal. I deleted them straight away, but other elderly people might fall for this scam.' - Cristina, via email
And coincidentally, soon after we received two TV Licence scam emails in to the Saga Magazine email inbox:
Protect yourself from scams
The best form of protection from phishing attacks is a suspicious mind: if you get an unsolicited email, even if it appears to be from a company you have an existing relationship with, always be cautious.
Banks do not ask customers to log into their accounts via links in emails, nor does HM Revenue & Customs.
Five signs that something is a scam
If an email says there is a problem with your account or any other financial matter, call the company or organisation in question on a number that you get from another source – such as previous written correspondence or the back of your bank card – to check whether there actually is a problem. Sadly, if an email arrives offering you free money, it is almost invariably a scam.
Action Fraud has the following advice:
How you can protect yourself
• Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.
• Don’t assume a phone call or email is authentic, even if someone knows your basic details (such as your name or address). Remember, criminals can spoof phone numbers and email addresses to appear as companies you know and trust, such as TV Licensing.
• Your bank will never call and ask you for your PIN, full banking password, or ask you to transfer money out of your account.
What to do if you’ve fallen for this scam
• Let your bank know as soon as possible and monitor your bank statements regularly for any unusual activity.
• If you have been a victim of fraud or cyber crime, report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk, or by calling 0300 123 2040.
Find out more about staying safe online at the Government's Cyber Aware website, and how to protect yourself from financial fraud with Take Five.
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